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  • Writer's pictureChild Rights Centre, CNLU

Education Amidst Covid-19: Problems Associated with the Online Medium

By Avikalp Mishra, a 2nd Year, B.A., LL.B.(Hons.) student at NLIU, Bhopal

 

Introduction

With the advent of Covid-19, the methods of providing and receiving education have undergone a massive transformation. The virus has forced several educational institutions to shift education to online platforms. This seems to be the most suitable alternative, considering the deadly and infectious nature of the virus. However, the shift to online learning has created problems for a vast majority of those students who do not have access to the internet and digital resources. While the financially stable section of students has been able to cope with online classes and e-notes, the underprivileged students have been rendered helpless. In light of the pandemic and inaccessibility of resources, the online mode of education has become problematic. Prompt action on the part of the state is required to make education as accessible as possible in these trying times.


Education and its importance

Education has always been significantly valued in ancient Indian scriptures and jurisprudence. The importance of guru (teacher) has been highlighted through several shlokas and texts. As our country progressed over time, the right to education was recognized and acknowledged through certain constitutional and judicial pronouncements. Through the 86th constitutional amendment 2002, Article 21-A was inserted into the Indian Constitution, which guarantees education as a fundamental right. In the landmark judgement of Mohini Jain v. State of Karnataka[1], the Supreme Court observed that the right to education is essential for the realization of the fundamental right to life and human dignity under Article 21. It is important for a state to provide education in an easily accessible and fair manner. The true motive behind providing education will not be fulfilled if those who require it the most for their development are unable to receive it due to financial and social drawbacks. The Indian judiciary has time and again stressed on the fact that simply providing free and compulsory education is not enough. In the case of the State of T.Nadu & Ors. v. K Shyam Sunder & Ors[2], it was observed that education must be provided in a quality manner, without any discrimination on the ground of economic, social, and cultural background. The state is obliged to ensure that the education being provided reaches those students for whom it can serve as a means of empowerment. The Supreme Court rightly observed in the case of Sanjai Kumar and Ors v. Prabhat Kumar and Ors[3] that the state has a sacrosanct obligation to see that the children are educated.


Problems of accessibility and the resulting discrimination

Electricity is of utmost importance for proper online education. The devices utilized for accessing online education need frequent charging. In the absence of a proper and continuous supply of electricity, the task becomes difficult for students residing in rural and remote areas. Only about 47%, i.e., less than half of the Indian households, receive electricity supply for more than 12 hours a day.


The state of computer and internet availability in India is not satisfactory. The lack of digital resources means almost negligible access to education for economically and socially backward children, especially when it has been shifted online. According to the report of the Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Household Social Consumption on Education in India (2017-2018), only 23% of the urban and 4% of the rural population own computers.


The 2017-18 National Sample Survey report on education also presents some concerning data in this regard. Internet facility is available to only 24% of the Indian households. Also, this percentage does not imply that these households necessarily own a proper internet connection. The problem of discrimination becomes even more evident from the fact that among the poorest 20% of households, only 2.7% have access to a computer and 8.9% to internet facilities.


Although no one can deny the importance of online mediums in providing education during the pandemic, these facts and figures highlight the problem of discrimination and inaccessibility owing to the same. Article 3 of The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 clearly states that all children aged 6-14 years shall have the right to free and compulsory education. However, the present situation does not account for this provision. Most of the financially affluent students are able to pursue education during the pandemic, while financially unstable students who do not have enough money to afford digital devices and the internet lag behind. The inability to access online education has also lead to increased student drop-outs. Owing to the fact that the schools are now closed, the underprivileged students are also not able to access mid-day meal schemes in many states.


Aspects related to the well-being of students

In its true sense, education is not only limited to providing knowledge and information but also the proper development of the individual. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948, recognizes education as a human right. It also states that education shall be directed at the full development of human personality. However, this objective is not realised effectively in the online medium. Those students who are fortunate enough to access online education also suffer from several problems. They do not get enough opportunities to interact and communicate with their classmates and teachers (mostly due to connectivity problems), which curbs their curiosity and critical thinking. Online education also has an adverse impact on both the physical and mental health of students, which includes but is not limited to eye strains, fatigue, headaches, anxiety, and even depression. There have also been some instances of online abuse, cyberbullying, and exposure to abusive content during online classes.


Responsibilities of the State and the steps taken

The statistical data shows that online education would lead to a large number of students being unable to further pursue their education due to a lack of suitable resources available to them. The responsibilities of the government as a welfare state are well enunciated under the Directive Principles of State Policy. It is the duty of the state to promote the educational and economic interests of the financially weaker sections. Additionally, it must also be made sure that proper policies are developed in order to ensure the healthy development of children.

Certain policies have been formulated by the government to lessen the negative impacts of a sudden shift towards online education. Nishtha Online program has been initiated to provide online training to school teachers on how to operate the new online systems. Under the e-VIDYA initiative, the Digital Infrastructure for Knowledge Sharing (DIKSHA) has been created, which is a collection of course books for students in eighteen different languages that provides information on the basis of the student’s needs. The state has also established the Swayam Prabha DTH network, which aims to provide education through TV channels.


Conclusion and suggestions

Though the state has tried to implement several measures to ensure access to education amidst the pandemic, much work remains to be done in this aspect. Taking into consideration the feeble internet penetration rate, and the less availability of resources, these programs would not be of much assistance without proper government funding. Students would be able to access better educational resources and devices if they are provided proper financial support. Additionally, the state must strive to train teachers in such a manner so that the online classroom environment becomes more fruitful and interactive. Online educational content must be curated in a manner that is easily comprehensible and interesting. Furthermore, the state shall continuously endeavour to strengthen internet infrastructure in the country, so that education is imparted in a smooth and effective manner, even amidst a worldwide pandemic.


References

[1] 1992 AIR 1858 [2] 2011 8 SCC 737 [3] 2020 3 SCC 184



 

(Disclaimer- The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Child Rights Centre.)

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